Day 1 of Royal Ascot saw me arrive sporting the largest hat IN ASCOT HISTORY. Paparazzi and film makers clambered for photos; however I was keen to make sure they first stopped to listen to the important message behind the creation - one which is being directed at all those involved in every sector of the racing industry.
The astounding hat, which left race-goers transfixed, towered a staggering one foot above my head, down the nape of my neck and finished by cascading to the ground for well over 6ft. It was clad in black velvet and topped with hundreds of individually hand painted, red, roses to signify the 1400+ racehorses which have died at British races since 2007 (according to The Horse Deathwatch website). Designed and hand crafted by celebrity milliner & Britain's Next Top Model Judge Louis Mariette, I hoped that the creation would do its job of inspiring industry tongues to converse about how horse welfare standards can be improved at British racecourses.
As a child I innocently dreamed of wearing the largest hat to Ascot and when I grew up, it happened! While wearing previous hats, I have NEVER placed a bet, supported the actual racing, however I decided last year to refrain from attending Ascot at all, as I felt it was ethically wrong, especially as I work with animals. This year I decided to return to use the large amount of publicity I receive in order to raise standards for horses at tracks all over the UK and do some good.
People often just blame the steeplechase races for horse fatalities, but surprisingly Ascot has had its fair share of deaths, it actually ranks as Britain's most dangerous Flat (turf) venue. In 2014, four horses died unbeknown to flamboyant racegoers: Case Statement died from a broken lower leg; Inchila and Sir Graham Wade suffered a fractured pelvis; and Tiger Cliff collapsed and died after the race. Two horses then died in 2015: Stravagante who was destroyed due to a fractured cannon-bone and King Edmund who fell and broke his neck.
So why this hat?
I feel that it's time that the safety of the animals must be put above profits, so I would like to propose:
• AN END TO NATIONAL HUNT RACING (racing which involves jumping fences and ditches often referred to as hurdles or steeplechase). The Grand National and Cheltenham festival races are two of the largest and most dangerous steeplechases which have seen 40 deaths in the last ten years.
• AN END TO THE WHIP which has been shown to be ineffective and can cause painful welts. The use of the whip urges the horse to go beyond what it is able to comfortably do, and can result in injuries and stress. Norway banned the whip in 1982 and there is no reason why the UK cannot follow their example.
• THE SHORTENING OF COURSES TO UNDER 4.5 MILES. Anything over this is too long and gruelling for most horses. Many horses can suffer stress, strokes and collapse.
I don't think that we will ever see an end to horse racing, as it is deeply embedded in British Culture, however we can certainly bring attention to improvements which so desperately need to be made. By wearing this hat, I am hoping to open up a calm and civilised discussion with MPs and those in the horse race industry on how we can move forward. Sadly the hedonism of the Royal Ascot event is an intoxicating smoke screen to the reality of the death and suffering behind the sport of horse racing and its time we sat up, opened our eyes and realised that Royal Ascot is not simply just the glamorous event we perceive it to be.
I asked Louis to create this important hat for me, as he is a great animal lover, being raised as a vet's son and known for collecting paraphernalia from nature to make many of his hats. Louis worked tirelessly on the immense creation for two weeks solid prior to Royal Ascot, individually hand dipping over 1400 foam roses in 'Red Stallion' paint. The final creation was extremely heavy and somewhat painful to wear, but My head pain was irrelevant, when those poor horses are being whipped to within an inch of their life out there on the tracks. I can now perhaps be on the same wavelength as the horses, I felt.